The International Writers Magazine:Lifestories
Soaptree Yucca sits defiantly atop a wind-carved dune. Its needle-like
leaves resist the incessant gypsum whippings and its fingering
roots grasp the shifting soil. The stubborn tree sits alone, a
green dot on a vast ocean of white.
Jim clad in sneakers, blue jeans, and a yellow windbreaker
stares at the spiky plant from another dune, his teal eyes
as wide as saucers.
A breeze billows
the hood of his thin jacket, filling the nylon opening with golden light.
Jims father, standing in a larger but identical yellow jacket,
looks at his awestruck son and pats his back.
"Neat, huh," Jims father says.
Jim nods, never taking his eyes off the Yucca and the ever-changing
dune. Jims father bends down, his knees going off like gunshots,
and buries his hand into the fine sand. He scoops up a heaping handful,
some of the sand cascading off his palm, and shows it to Jim.
"Deposits from the ancient sea," Jims dad says. "Put
your hands together."
Jim does as his father tells him, and receives the colorless soil as
if it were a precious, breakable gift. The tiny white grains pour into
Jims cupped hands like warm silk. Some of the sand slips between
Jims fingers, and Jim, ashamed of his carelessness, closes the
"Know how old that stuff is?"
Jim shakes his head.
"Millions of years."
Jim nods as if he could comprehend this amount of time. He knows its
older than his dad, and that, to Jim, is a long time. Another gust of
wind lifts his hood as Jim watches the sun reflect off the sand in brilliant
flashes. Maybe, he thinks, there are a million grains in his hands.
Jims father walks toward the Yucca, his feet swimming through
the soft dune. Jim carefully places the sand in the same hole his father
had dug it from, and runs to catch up. Sand is funny, Jim thinks. His
feet feel heavy, like the Thanksgiving weekend he walked in knee-deep
powder at Taos Mountain with his mother. Suddenly, a terrifying thought
floods his head. What if he were to get buried under all this? What
if his dad werent around to dig him out?
A dirt devil coils past Jims dad as he hikes up the ripples in
the dune. Each ripple is perfectly formed, a frozen wave in a sea of
white. A black beetle, small but somehow magnified into something larger
on this blinding surface, scurries past Jim and burrows into the sand.
Where does it go? Jim wonders, furrowing his wrinkleless brow. What
does it eat?
Jims dad stops beside the Yucca his thinning black hair
flailing in the desert breeze, his lungs expanding and contracting in
an effort to recover from the hike and stares at the prickly
tree. Jim, a few steps behind his father, trips and falls hands first
to the soft ground. Embarrassed, Jim slaps the thin coat of gypsum from
his palms and continues his climb.
"Ever seen a Yucca before?" Jims dad asks.
Jim nods, lying.
"I dont think you seen this kind before. Its one of
the few plants that can grow out here."
Jim nods again, wondering why a beetle could survive in a desert when
a plant couldnt (maybe its because the beetle moves?). Above
him, scratching the cloudless blue dome with a thin white line, a plane
races west. Neither Jim nor his father notice the jet or the sparrow
which flies safely, freely above their dune.
Jims dad, still staring at the plant, thinks about the land out
east: another country, another desert, another sandy field inhibited
by people similar to him (yet so drastically different). Jims
father thinks about how hell be there this same time next week.
Hell pack his few belongings, say his goodbyes, then head to San
Diego the sunny city which eludes all soldiers who wish to remain
on its inviting beaches and beautiful coastlines. Despite the uncontrollable
urge to stay, theyll depart on a carrier, or a destroyer, or a
cruiser, and head out into uncertain waters.
And from there? Undisclosed.
It was a war Jims father did and didnt believe in. He was
one of a few still walking the taut high rope, refusing to take a side.
Below the rope, the crowd on the left chanted peace, love, and diplomacy
(as if the right didnt believe in such things). Opposite to them,
shouting just as loudly, were cries for security, safety, and freedom
(as if the left lacked such interests). Both sides were equally determined
to drag him down, to take a stand, to choose. Jims duty, though,
was to simply walk the twine and keep a steady course (fulfill his job).
San Diego, the ship, the war they were all over the horizon.
Right now, on his last weekend, Jims father has Jim and the sea
of white sand and the brilliant sun. Its magnificent, this place
called White Sands, New Mexico. Every part of it. The untainted blue
dome; the cool and constant breezes; the single stubborn green Yucca
which refuses to give in to the same elements that destroyed all other
forms of vegetation. Its a snapshot Jims father wishes to
freeze, spend another week or two roaming the dunes with his son, spend
time on things his own father never spent time doing.
"Does it rain out here?" Jim asks, stuffing his hands in his
windbreaker because he doesnt know what else to do with them.
Jims father shakes his head, the sun reflecting off a bald spot
where there had once been hair. "Not that often."
The plane and its white tail of smoke have disappeared. Like so much
that surrounds them, Jim and his father had missed the pleasure of its
brief existence. There were pilots in that jet, people, stewardesses,
and, more importantly, a soldier who was headed to report for service,
a man not unlike Jims father young (yet old), proud (yet
ashamed), courageous (yet cowardly).
Jim fathers bends down and lowers himself eye level with Jim.
Theres so much he should tell his son. So much he should explain
before he leaves. Hell tell him it now, while the wind tousles
his sons silky black hair, while another dirt devil spirals past
"You tired?" Jims father asks.
Jim shakes his head. "Im alright."
Jims father nods. The moment has passed. He puts his hand on Jims
shoulder and stands back up.
"Lets move on, then."
They decline down the dune. They walk side-by-side, feet seeping in
the gypsum carpet, two yellow windbreakers (one large, one small) billowing
in the gusts. They walk, on this final weekend, as father and son.
Vincent Lowry December 2005
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